Financial Services: Oportun
San Carlos, CA | Founded: 2005
Credit where credit is due
Oportun’s Raul Vazquez is committed to helping lower‑income Americans finance for a better future.
It didn’t take Raul Vazquez long to fully grasp the challenges ahead after being named the CEO of Oportun in 2012.
“On my third day, the COO and CFO told me that if we didn’t get funding soon, we were going to have to have a conversation about making payroll,” Vazquez recalls. “And that was my very first week. It provided a lot of clarity about what needed to get done.”
One of his first orders of business was to sit down with each of his Oportun employees (who numbered about 80 at the time) to explain his strategy, listen to their concerns and assuage their understandable anxiety about the future of the financing company.
“This was a group of talented people who believed strongly in the mission,” Vazquez says. “My thinking was: could I be a catalyst of sorts; could I take the same ingredients that existed and have a better reaction?”
Under his stewardship, Oportun — based in San Carlos, California, and launched in 2005 to provide affordable loans to hardworking lower-income individuals with little or no credit history — has achieved a remarkable comeback. The company now has more than $5 billion in inception-to-date loan originations, with more than 600,000 active customers.
One of his first moves was to quickly revamp the business model to shore up and expand the customer base and stabilize the Oportun work environment. In addition, the company’s data and IT structure were enhanced, including the introduction of a mobile phone app to engage remote customers and a robust data analytics system.
With 20 years of experience in high-growth environments, including more than nine years in senior management at Walmart, Vazquez operates from three bedrock management principles with his employees.
First, context: “People need to understand the details around a particular initiative.” Second, communication: “Once you give your people the proper context, you need strong communication to accomplish the objective.” Third, collaboration: “Even with good communication, if you are not working with each other, it’s hard to be successful.”
His professional vision is shaped not only by experiences at Walmart and elsewhere, but by a sense of personal commitment and a work ethic instilled by his parents. One of four children born to a doctor and nurse who had emigrated from small mining towns in Mexico, he was born outside Toledo, Ohio, but spent his formative years in El Paso, Texas.
Did Vazquez have youthful career ambitions? “What did I want to be when I grew up? Taller,” he laughs. (Mission accomplished: late bloomer Vazquez is 6 feet tall). With degrees from Stanford University and the Wharton School of Business, he landed at Walmart as Marketing Director in 2002, rising up the executive ladder before moving to Oportun.
Oportun continues to build its business and explore new markets. Currently, the company operates in 11 states, but Vazquez notes that its potential pool of customers could run into the tens of millions, so his goal is to push into as many of the 50 states as possible. “The number of people living paycheck to paycheck feels like it’s growing every day,” he says.
“For people who feel they have no control over certain outcomes, the opportunity to establish a credit history can be empowering,” he adds. Oportun offers more capital at lower cost, making a positive impact on customers’ lives. Loan amounts and terms vary; the average loan is about $3,200, with a 30-month repayment schedule.
Remaining involved with his employees is a workplace priority. Vazquez maintains an executive office but says he prefers operating from his desk on the floor. Lunches that celebrate performance and anniversaries are a staple of the company’s culture. The staff has grown to more than 2,700, a huge leap from his first days as CEO.
Vazquez also encourages his team to contribute their time and effort to worthy community causes and organizations. Employees are permitted to use 1% of their work time for community projects. Vasquez himself is a longtime supporter of the Latino Community Foundation and a former member of the board of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.
As a father of four, Vazquez stresses the need to balance home life with the growing demands of running a fast-developing business. “Don’t live to work, but work to live, as the old saying goes,” he says. “My biggest priority is to be a good father, a good husband, a good family man.”
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